By Michael Jegede
AT the end of the Anambra Central Senatorial poll held during the 2015 general elections, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife, the then candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. On December 7, 2015, six months after she was sworn in as the Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District, the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu nullified her election and ordered that a rerun be conducted within 90 days from the date the judgement was delivered.
The ruling was given consequent upon an appeal filed by the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, against the earlier verdict of the lower tribunal upholding Ekwunife’s victory at the poll. Convinced that Ekwunife was wrongly declared winner, Umeh, who came second in the election, had gone to the tribunal to challenge the decision of the electoral umpire.
The rerun poll which ought to have held on March 5, 2016 was postponed indefinitely by INEC, after an Abuja High Court suddenly gave a ruling compelling it to include the PDP, against the judgement of the Court of Appeal that disqualified the party and its candidate. The Appeal Court had barred Ekwunife from participating in the rerun election it ordered for the Anambra Central Senatorial zone, on the ground that she was not validly nominated by the PDP through a properly conducted primary.
What that meant was that PDP had no valid candidate for the initial election and so cannot be part of the rerun ordered by the court. INEC’s refusal to allow PDP or accept a new contestant from any party for the rerun poll was based on an already decided case where the Supreme Court ruled that only candidates and political parties that were part of an annulled election can participate when a repeat of the exercise is ordered.
The same scenario had played out in Kogi East and Kogi Central senatorial districts, where the two Senators elected on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) had their elections quashed by the Appellate Court and they were disallowed from being part of the ordered rerun, due to the same reason for which Ekwunife was disqualified. INEC has since conducted the rerun elections in those two senatorial districts (Kogi Central and Kogi East) without APC participating. The two reruns went in favour of the PDP.
But the same PDP which profited from a similar judgment elsewhere is insisting that it must be allowed to present a candidate for the Anambra Central rerun and has instituted different cases that are delaying the conduct of the exercise. Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, who was not an aspirant in the first election, is the man PDP wants to field as its candidate for the rerun. Ekwunife who had left PDP and attempted to secure APC ticket to no avail for the rerun poll is currently at the Supreme Court asking for the reversal of the Court of Appeal judgement that sacked her, even when by the law of the land, National Assembly election matters end in the Appellate Court.
Unfortunately, in all these calculated moves to unnecessarily prolong and frustrate the conduct of rerun poll in Anambra Central, the people of the senatorial district are being denied representation in the highest legislative body of the country. The seat of the district in the Red Chamber became vacant exactly a year ago. As a result, there has been nobody speaking for the people of the zone in the Senate. The 2016 budget was passed without a Senator from Anambra Central pushing for the inclusion of developmental projects and programmes for the benefit of the senatorial district. 2017 budget would soon be presented to the National Assembly. What is the fate of the Anambra Central people?
The situation is no doubt worrisome. The people of the zone are quite unhappy that they have no representation in the country’s Upper Legislative Chamber with the continued delay in conducting the rerun election. And INEC has categorically stated that the Anambra Central rerun will remain pending until all the sundry court cases that have trailed it are disposed of.
A constituent of Anambra Central, Clifford Nwagbo, was reported to have expressed worry over the non-representation of his senatorial district in the Senate. He urged politicians and other stakeholders from the zone to put aside their differences and withdraw the cases in court to allow the electoral body organize the rerun poll. Nwagbo said those behind the various litigations blocking the conduct of rerun should know that they are only punishing the entire people of Anambra Central by denying them the opportunity of having a representative in the Senate.
On his part, Fabian Okoli from Achalla in Awka North Local Government Area said: “All the senators have ensured that their areas were captured in this year’s budget in terms of provision of dividends of democracy, but there was nobody to press for the inclusion of our needs. This is unfair and it can best be described as self-marginalization brought about by some politicians in our zone.”
Umeh, the former national chairman of APGA who was set to emerge victorious before the indefinite postponement of the rerun, has continued to call on the Anambra Central people to be calm and patient. He assured the people that the rerun poll would surely hold, notwithstanding the attempt by some desperate politicians to use frivolous litigations to prevent the conduct of the exercise. Hear him: “I know the good people of Anambra Central are missing a lot already, because if I had been there before now, the story would have completely changed.”
Jegede writes from Abuja